Reflective Journal Writing Tips for Students

When teachers introduce the idea of journaling into their classroom, they're often searching for reflective journal writing tips for students. These are the ideas that will help students become motivated to formulate opinions, express themselves openly, and write reflectively.

Students - middle and high school students especially - can really benefit from journal writing and it's not a difficult or expensive technique to introduce into a lesson plan. In fact, it's often an effective way to begin class. This practice creates routine and reliability.

Students of all ages can learn a lot from keeping a regular journal. In fact, teachers can, too. Learning from experience is an important part of the teaching career track and many teachers like to reflect on what's working and what's not within their classrooms. Students themselves often enjoy writing in journals. These small notebooks allow them to create a safe space to write, express themselves, and document their progress.

Five Benefits of Reflective Journal Writing

Everyone can learn something about themselves and their habits when forced to write about them. That's why journal writing is a critical activity when seeking personal development. Let's take a look at five benefits of journal writing.

  1. It allows students to advance from passive learners to active learners. Through the process of journaling, students begin to problem-solve on their own. From this, self-esteem begins to blossom.
  2. Journaling also provides a place for dreams and ideas to grow. A proper learning environment allows students to feel safe, free from judgment, and encouraged. Whether students are journaling about academic goals or personal goals, a journal is a perfect place to watch these seeds grow.
  3. Reflective journaling, with its lack of strict rules, motivates students to write. Some students feel they don't have a knack for writing. Journaling breaks down some of those walls. Teachers can provide prompts for students to choose from or allow them to reflect on a certain quote.
  4. Reflective journals foster a greater understanding of new ideas. Students can use this opportunity to think deeper about new discoveries, recording personal observations and added research on the topic.
  5. Reflective journaling allows students to acquire knowledge more authentically. Due to the critical thinking skills that are a natural outcome of journaling, knowledge isn't acquired simply because students were told something was true. Through journaling, knowledge is acquired and maintained because students spent some time contemplating new ideas.

Five Ways to Encourage Journal Writing

For students who doubt their ability to write - or consider it a chore - there are many ways to encourage them to embrace journaling. Here are five to get you started.

  1. Utilize the "pick a topic" strategy. Encourage students to write about anything, in relation to a theme. Creating prompts provides students with direction to get them started.
  2. Don't use this as a time to nit-pick on grammar and usage. Allow students to write freely, even in poor grammar. Students who journal regularly will naturally improve their grammar skills over time.
  3. Use the "stream of questioning" technique to foster new ideas. If you'd like students to journal about recent reading, pose a series of questions, i.e. what characters did you relate to and why? What would you do if you were in their situation?
  4. Write a quote on the board and ask students to reflect on it. What do they think it means? Do they believe it's true?
  5. Create consistency. Make it understood that this is the way the first five minutes of every class will begin. Consistency will foster the habits we've discussed i.e. critical thinking and creativity.

Your aim should be to get students to draw connections between school and their life outside the classroom. This helps students draw a personal connection to their work. Furthermore, it helps students better understand events taking place in their everyday lives.

Five Ways to Use Reflective Journal Writing in the Classroom

Reflective journaling is most often reserved for English class. In truth, however, it can be used at every grade level and in every subject. Here are some examples.

  1. Science: Reinforce a new topic or concept. For example, if students learned about the law of motion, ask them to write an entry about its application in their everyday lives. Pose questions like, "How can I find the force of an object?" or "What is an example of each law of motion?"
  2. Vocabulary: One day, ask your students to try to use new words they've learned within their reflective journals. You can list some of those vocabulary words on the board. This will help them grow as writers and become more fluent in the written language.
  3. Reading: Pose questions about a recent piece of literature. This will develop students' reading comprehension. Ask them what they thought a certain scene meant. Ask them what a character meant when he said <blank>. Use this opportunity to watch students develop their own opinions and ideas. Ask opinion-based questions, too, like, "Was the character right or wrong in their actions?"
  4. Social Studies: Post a writing prompt or question on the board whenever you're introducing a new topic. If you're about to begin a new lesson on the U.S. flag, ask students to write an entry detailing what they think the flag stands for.
  5. All Purpose: Once in a while, have your students reflect on one of their old journal entries. It's very useful for students to go back and discover how far they've come as writers, even within a few weeks of journal writing.

The Teacher's Role

If you plan on collecting and grading students' journals, this will create a wonderful opportunity for you to better understand them. Perhaps you'll discover which areas they're struggling in, academically, enabling you to address their needs. You may even discover their personal worlds and understand how to help them develop relationships in the classroom.

The intentionally relaxed nature of journaling makes grading a bit different than other assignments. The goal here is to place the emphasis on content, not technicality. It would be best, for both teacher and student, to develop a simple rubric. Perhaps you'll outline three areas:

  1. Content Reflection: Did the student answer all questions?
  2. Personal Growth: Was self-reflection expressed in the writing?
  3. Advancement: Were new discoveries made throughout the process of journal writing?

Keep the rubric basic, since the primary goal of reflective journaling is self-discovery and self-confidence. It's possible to develop a framework that ensures students took the assignment seriously, without overburdening them with strict "rules" in what should otherwise be a freeing exercise.

The Classroom's Role

In the end, reflective journaling will serve as a powerful tool to aid everyone's understanding. Students will come to know themselves, their thoughts, and even their dreams better.

Teachers will come to understand their students better and be able to reach out to them on both an academic and a personal level. Starting off the day with a calm moment for careful reflection is just the ticket to a successful and enjoyable day of learning.

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